Social networking is spreading in the workplace even as IT administrators turn a blind eye to the implications this has for security.

A new survey of 1,324 UK consumers and 390 TechNet members on behalf of Microsoft found that one third of end users now say they use social networking tools at work, while 46 percent of the admins tasked to manage them don't bother to monitor this use.

Perhaps the fact that 62 percent of the IT professionals use social networking themselves might explain why 40 percent see no threat in the spread of the phenomenon. Remarkably, 16 percent owned up to having downloaded a social-oriented application without first checking its safety, while 35 percent were happy to publish personal details on sites such as date of birth and home address.

"Despite the real benefits that social media tools can bring to business, it seems that the adoption of these tools is taking place without much control, or guidance from IT, leaving companies exposed," said Microsoft 'security evangelist' Stephen Lamb.

Ten percent of users admit to posting information about clients, with a promiscuous fourteen percent saying they had accepted an invitation to chat or join in with social networking from a stranger.

In common with the security mainstream, Microsoft suggests that companies enforce policies for use, as they would with any other application. This sidesteps the fact that there are few effective tools with which to actively manage social networking use. The choice tends to be simpler – allow all access or take the draconian route and employ URL blocking to stop access altogether.

Blocking looks tempting, but social networking, like instant messaging before it, has some interesting upsides. The survey found that 80 percent of employees reckoned they had gained a benefit for their businesses in using such tools, which might explain why some companies have taken the step of mandating its use in the hope that it will improve company communication.

"Whether businesses are for or against social media there is a real need to evaluate employee usage of these tools. At Microsoft we believe that the positives social media bring to the workplace far outweigh the negatives and that IT can mitigate the risks by educating end users to use these tools responsibly," said Lamb.